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Full text of "My country and my people"

LIT E R A KY    LIFE
V. PROSE
There was very little good prose In the classical Chinese literature. This statement perhaps sounds extremely unfair and needs clarification. There are many samples of high-flown, rhetorical prose, excellent in their way and possessing great virtuosity; there are also many samples of poetic prose, which by their cadence of vowels are eminently singable. In fact, the regular way of reading prose whether at schools or in private was to sing them. There is really no appropriate word for this type of reading in English; the so-called "singing" is to read the lines aloud with a kind of regulated and exaggerated intonation, not according to any particular tune, but following more or less the tonal values of the vowels in a general tune, somewhat similar to the reading of the "lesson" by the dean of an Episcopalian church, but with the syllables a great deal more drawn out.
This type of poetic prose is especially bad in the euphuistic compositions of the filth and sixth centuries, which developed directly out of the fu, or high-flown prose, used in imperial eulogies, as unnatural as any court poetry and as awkward as a Russian ballet. Such euphuistic prose, running In parallel constructions of alternate sentences of four and six syllablesó hence called the ssulin or "four-six style/* also called p'ienfi or "parallel style5*ówas possible only In a dead and highly artificial Ianguage3 entirely cut apart from the living realities of the age. But neither euphuistic prose, nor poetic prose, nor high-flown rhetorical prose is good prose. These may be called good prose only by a wrong literary standard. By good prose I mean prose which has the sweep and rhythm of a good chat by the fireside, such as used by the great story-tellers like Defoe or Swift or Boswell. Now it Is clear that such prose Is possible only in a living, and not in an artificial, language. Extremely good prose there Is in the non-classical literature of novels written in the spoken language, but we are speaking of classical writings.
The use of the literary language, with its peculiarly crisp style, makes this almost impossible. FiiSt, good prose must be